Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Keeping a Reflective Diary

Daily Reflection: A Ten-Minute Exercise
This is a more demanding discipline than the Learning Diary, as it requires daily reflection on one's learning cf. at the end of each week. Its advantage is that through a regular commitment, one 'learns faster' i.e., you have the opportunity to live not only 'bumped around' on the surface of life, but with a deeper understanding and mastery of the opportunities of life.


  1. Choose a safe place (i.e., comfortable, peaceful environment where you are unlikely to be interrupted for 10 minutes), relax your body and become attentive but open.
  2. Begin positively. Recall something in the day that was good. It may have been something that you really valued: a kind word, a good conversation, a beautiful rainbow or even a simple equation (that succinctly summed up so much!). Then re-live that experience, savor it for a minute and express gratitude for it.
  3. Have a moment of silence, then let one thing surface in your mind. An indication of something to reflect on, may be a niggle, a mental preoccupation, a tension or a strong feeling.
    • Think around the situation: how it began, how it developed, why it bothered me so deeply etc.
    • Reflect on this. Can't I stand being criticised and always want to look as though I'm right? Am I intolerant? Do I not understand the subject area?
    • Recognise it - own it - this is me! It may be painful but I faced it! Talk over these feelings with yourself. You may begin here to realise that it is not so serious and begin to smile to yourself as you put it into perspective.
    • Realise that having come thus far (e.g., facing the pain), you have grown a little in self knowledge and awareness. Express gratitude at this point. Realise also that in growing you have also grown for others and in so doing (if done humbly i.e., not for selfish reasons) then you are also helping the development of humankind.
  4. An example may be: a conversation that made me feel being got at, or a badly answered question in a tutorial that made me look stupid; so I'm hurt, angry, resentful, I want to retaliate; it has spoiled my day and I want to/have taken out my bitterness on others etc.
  5. Now, may be the appropriate time to 'formally' finish the reflection in any manner that seems appropriate to you e.g., a good stretch, saying a meaningful verse of a poem or a simple prayer. Then have a cup of tea!
  6. You may wish to work further with your insight, either now or later (make a note in your diary) i.e., how you can move on from here (to complete the Learning Cycle). Do not rush any insights. Let them have time (at least a few days) to mature, by keeping them gently in mind.

Keeping a Learning/Reflective Diary

  • To allow you to regularly reflect on significant experiences associated particularly with your (University) learning.
  • To help you become aware and acknowledge what you have learnt/how you have progressed.
  • To help identify issues/problem associated with your learning, and by so doing, enable you to consider options for their resolution etc.

  • Use a soft backed small exercise book (not loose paper) to record your thoughts.
  • Spend no more than five minutes every day, (rather than half an hour, once a week) to get started.
  • Review what you have written once a week (e.g. Sunday evening; when you might also be planning your coming week activity). Also, review what you have written more generally every month/two months to gain an overview/discover trends, etc.
  • If nothing "comes" - leave it to the following day (but write down some comment e.g. ‘nothing today’).

  • "Activities"/situations/experiences that went well or were difficult
  • Unexpected problems or issues e.g. solving a particular maths problem (that you had revised carefully) or explaining an idea in a group project meeting.
  • Habits that you have notices in yourself or others (which have some relevance)
  • How you feel about the way you are doing things e.g. items of understanding, clarity of thought, strength of actions, awareness.
  • How effective you are e.g. using feedback from others, achieving goals (assignment deadlines, finding information in library, keeping a learning diary! etc.)
  • Anything else that feels of importance to you - even though you may not understand the significance of it.

  • It helps you to learn from your successes, as well as your mistakes
  • It makes it more likely that you will use what you have learnt next time i.e. rather than ‘making the same mistakes’, "falling back on old habits’ etc.
  • It gives you an opportunity to plan concisely what you want to do, what you want to change, etc.
  • It may help you feel more in "control of your life", more positive, deepen your understanding, etc.

Art is Like Smoking

Art is a bit like smoking. As a non-smoker you wonder what the other guys sees in it. Don't they realise they are shortening their lives! You so wish the penny would drop and they could begin to enjoy life without cigarettes. When the penny does drop and you discover you don't cough in the morning and you don't need a Vindaloo to be able to taste your food. You realise what you have been missing. Discovering Art is a similar mind expanding experience, you feel so sorry for those who have yet to see the light. Just as it is impossible to convince a smoker through rational debate that they should give up. So it is impossible to convince the unenlightened that they should try to understand Art.

I have been a photographer for best part of 50 years. I enjoy all aspects of the medium but my preferences are towards what is grudgingly described in photographic circles as “Fine Art Photographs”. It was only when I started on an Art Foundation course and began to study the “history of art” that I realised what it was that attracted me to this genera of photography. It also made me consider more openly the visual angst of modern or contemporary photography.

I am tempted to argue the case for contemporary photography further but I suspect that Mr Joe Soaps mind is not susceptible to change just yet. I would rather that he saw the light himself, put his prejudices to one side, opened his mind and discovered the enlightenment that awaits him. Just as the hardened smoker must.

I will offer an emolument to Mr Soap by saying that I find art speak, erudite, facile, pretentious and exasperating. But you should not allow the Brian Sewells of this world to close your mind. You need to see past the misconceptions of what Art is all about and be prepared to be uncomfortable whilst your mind opens and expands enough to start enjoying the challenge of appreciating Art. It probably will not help but it may be worth considering that many artists who broke the mould where ridiculed and misunderstood at the time. The Expressionists for example, people queue around the block to view their works today. In their day they were just looked upon as a bunch of sex crazed, boozed up, angst ridden weirdo's. (Why am I thinking Amy Winehouse)? Similarly Dorothea Lange’s work was looked upon with distain by the critics when first presented to the public. Today it is now appreciated for both its documentary and artistic qualities.

It is my impression over my 50 years as a photographer that most photographers have a very superficial view of both the history and the aesthetic of photography. And zero knowledge of the history of art and the influence the invention of photography had on the development of art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They are more concerned by the hardware and the technology. The image for many is almost a bi-product of the process.

What is Art? Well that's a subject for another day!

Painting: Vincent van Gogh’s Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette